HOSTEL MAKEOVER: Smaller hotels seek creative ways to fill rooms and stay afloat

The nightly rate can be as low as $9, but your roommates are strangers and no bellhop will tote your luggage.

Oh, and that luggage is a nylon-and-metal sack, not a suitcase.

As traditional tourists become scarcer in Las Vegas, a growing number of local hotels and motel chains are seeking salvation in a most unlikely business model: hostels.

The niche hospitality segment caters mostly to backpackers, typically young international travelers. Hostels offer cheap dorm-style rooms. The bare-bones decor can conjure up images of jail cells, but the vibe is warmed by a community of newfound friends and adventurers.

Hostelers, once disdained by high-rolling hotels, are now coveted customers. Even the glamorous, newly opened Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas is advertising on a hostel website. A search of produces other surprising names: Station Casinos’ Wild Wild West and Palace Station hotel-casinos, and the Howard Johnson hotel chain.

“It is something that we thought of because the economy is really, really bad, and we are trying to bring in more people,” said John Fay, the general manager of the Howard Johnson on Las Vegas Boulevard, near the Fremont Street Experience.

The recession has hammered local room rates. The average daily room rate in Las Vegas dropped from a high of $132 in 2007 to about $95.60 in 2010, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority data show.

The steep discounting by high-end Strip properties on down is prompting hotel and motel operators to look for creative ways to fill rooms, said Grant Govertsen, a partner and analyst with Union Gaming Group.

“Maybe at $20 or $30 a room it is not worth it to keep the hotel open,” Govertsen said, pointing to recent closures of the hotels at the Plaza and Binion’s downtown. “But if you can jam so many people into a room, if it is not profitable, at least you can break even.”

The Econolodge on Las Vegas Boulevard in downtown Las Vegas converted about 30 of 100 rooms into hostel dorm rooms a month ago, said Ran Tadmor, manager of the motel’s West Coast Hostel brand.

The trend doesn’t surprise Tadmor, who also converted the Tod Motor Hotel down the street into a hostel a few years ago.

“Now, they see an untapped market,” Tadmor said. “You’ll see a lot more coming.”

For about $15 a night per bed, travelers can bunk in a dorm room yet enjoy amenities such as a private bathroom, phone and swimming pool.

“(Other hotels) used to laugh at me,” Tadmor said. “They are not laughing now.”

Including dining and shopping, the average backpacking traveler spends $80 to $100 a day in the city where they stay, reports Hostelling International, a global organization with thousands of owned and affiliated hostels.

Billie Marshall, who manages the now-renamed HI Tod Hostel and Motel, said hotel-casinos can afford to steeply discount rooms because they can turn a profit on hostelers elsewhere.

“The big hotels are dropping their rooms so low because they think they’ll make it up when these people eat at the restaurants or go to the casinos,” she said. “At $6 a night, you can’t cover the cost of the linen service.”

The Wild Wild West, an older property on West Tropicana Avenue near Interstate 15, calls itself a hostel on and and promotes a rate of as low as $9 per bed. Palace Station doesn’t call itself a hostel but advertises dormitory accommodations for about $22 a night. But here’s the catch: Both properties require multiple occupants in the room to get that rate.

Station spokeswoman Lori Nelson said in an e-mail that the local gaming company doesn’t market the Wild Wild West’s hostel accommodations, as the property is affiliated with the premium Days Inn brand. Instead, a travel agent and booker — listed on the websites as AAE — handles hostel accommodations for the property.

“We have (one) travel agent wholesale partner that caters to the European hostel community that sells our hotel through a wholesale partnership rate,” she said. “We are in no way trying to market the hotel in that direction.”

AAE and its operator, Scott McDonald, did not respond to requests for comment.

Not everyone benefits from the sudden courtship of backpackers. Long-standing Sin City Hostel is right next door to the newly converted Econolodge/West Coast Hostel. Deirdre Felgar, who has owned Sin City Hostel since 1987, recently had to drop her prices to $15 a night to keep pace with the upstarts. Felgar also counts the Tod and the just-opened Hostel Cat about a block up Las Vegas Boulevard as rivals.

Felgar is confident that hostelers will be able to discern between the offerings.

“You can’t run a motel and a hostel,” she said. “In a motel, you have a mommy and a daddy and kids that want to go in their room. Hostelers want the sense of community. They might meet someone and go to Grand Canyon with them. You’d never do that with someone you’d meet in a hotel or motel.”

Felgar tries to create the home-away-from-home atmosphere. She offers free weekly spaghetti dinners and buffet-style Thanksgiving dinner for about 50 “kids” residing there.

As many as 70 or 80 guests can stay at Sin City Hostel during its busiest periods, such as the summer and New Year’s Eve. Felgar said average guests are in their 20s, although some are older than 65.

Even the veteran Sin City Hostel is not immune to recession economics. As larger properties discounted their rates, squeezing the downtown hotels and budget motels, Felgar’s margins shrank, too.

“In 2009, I lost money. But this year (2010), I will make $20,000 or $30,000 in profit,” she said. “In 2005, I might have made $100,000 in profit.”

Tadmor said the Econolodge couldn’t have survived strictly as a motel anymore.

“The hostel is keeping the motel from closing,” he said.

Likewise, the Tod was also able to stay afloat by converting one of its three motel buildings into a hostel. Small bunks replaced queen-size beds in the rooms. Hostel guests have a common area for watching television and playing games, plus a kitchen for cooking. The Tod charges $15 a bed for dorm rooms and can accommodate about 80 hostelers.

“I’d like to see a ‘hostel row’ here where we all got together and put on events, like they do on the Strip,” Marshall said.

Hostel Cat opened on Las Vegas Boulevard in January. Owner Chandler Stewart also operated a hostel in San Diego, but said the competition was less fierce there.

“In San Diego, backpackers would splurge once in a while on a hotel room, but here it isn’t even splurging,” he said. “Once you have two or three people together, it’s the same cost as a hostel.”

While the U.S. economy has discouraged traditional tourists from traveling, hostel owners observe that the international backpackers’ love of adventure seems recession-proof.

“The international kids don’t care,” Marshall mused. “They’ll do their travel thing anyway.”

Contact reporter Valerie Miller at vmiller or 702-387-5286.

Local Videos
Butterflies At The Springs Preserve
The butterfly habitat is now open at the Springs Preserve. Learn about butterflies and take in the peaceful surroundings. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
The Bellagio Conservatory's spring display has a Japanese theme
The Bellagio's conservatory is hosting around 65,000 flowers, to form a Japanese theme this spring. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bonnie Springs closes (Caroline Brehman/Kimber Laux)
Bonnie Springs Ranch near Las Vegas officially closed its gates Sunday, March 17, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Honoring a fallen North Las Vegas Police officer at his namesake school
The 20th Annual Raul P. Elizondo Honor Day celebrates the fallen North Las Vegas Police officer's legacy at his namesake school. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Windy day in Las Vegas Valley
The Review-Journal's camera on the under-construction Las Vegas Stadium the was buffered by high winds on Wednesday, March 14, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
March gloom falls on Las Vegas
After a rainy overnight, gloomy skies hover over Las Vegas Tuesday morning. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
John Katsilometes gets his head shaved at St. Baldrick's
Las Vegas Review-Journal man-about-town columnist John Katsilometes gets his head shaved by former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman during St. Baldrick's Foundation shave-a-thon on the Brooklyn Bridge at New York-New York in Las Vegas Friday, March 8, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The Blue Angels take flight over Las Vegas Strip
The Blue Angels’ U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron flew their signature Delta formation over a part of the Las Vegas Strip, McCarran International Airport and east Las Vegas and were scheduled to fly over Hoover Dam. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Gross World Records
A group of about 20 children gathered around a TV at Sahara West Library on Feb. 27 for a history lesson on the most disgusting world records.
Graduation for Renewing HOPE program
The Renewing HOPE program graduation for homeless who spend nine months in Catholic Charities program. Graduates are preparing to enter the workforce. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Car crashes into Starbucks near Las Vegas Strip
Lt. William Matchko of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police gives details about a car crashing into a Starbucks at Sahara Avenue and Paradise Road, near the Las Vegas Strip, on Friday, March 1, 2019. (Jessica Terrones/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Car crashed into PT’s Gold
A 60-year-old man who police believe was impaired drove into a PT’s Gold at Silverado Ranch and Decatur boulevards Thursday night, Metropolitan Police Department Lt. William Matchko said. The driver was hospitalized and is expected to survive. A man inside the bar was hit by debris but drove himself to the hospital, Matchko said. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Driver crashes vehicle into PT’s tavern in south Las Vegas (part 1)
A driver suspected of impairment crashed a vehicle into the wall of a PT’s Gold tavern, at 4880 W. Silverado Ranch Blvd., in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Driver crashes vehicle into PT’s tavern in south Las Vegas (pullout)
A driver suspected of impairment crashed a vehicle into the wall of a PT’s Gold tavern, at 4880 W. Silverado Ranch Blvd., in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Kids Read Books To Dogs At The Animal Foundation In Las Vegas
Kids from local Las Vegas elementary schools took part, Thursday, in a program at the Animal Foundation, where they read books to dogs. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Pioneer Trail highlights historic locations in West Las Vegas
The Pioneer Trail, a 16-site route of historically significant locations in Las Vegas, starts at the Springs Preserve and snakes east until it reaches above the brim of downtown. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutefsya
Vegas Warm Weather Hits Las Vegas Valley
Between Feb. 20-21, parts of the Las Vegas Valley were hit with 7.5" of snow. Less than a week later, it was sunny with temperatures in the 70s. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dr. S. Jay Hazan, a World War II veteran, talks about his arrest at the VA Hospital
Dr. S. Jay Hazan, a World War II Army veteran, was arrested in November after he caused a ruckus at the VA Hospital in North Las Vegas and stole his driver's car keys. He was arraigned on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, and the charges will be dropped after 60 days. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Claytee White talks about Black History Month
An interview with Claytee White, director of the Oral History Research Center at UNLV. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Reflecting on the Moulin Rouge and a segregated Vegas
Former employees of the Moulin Rouge, the first integrated hotel-casino in Nevada, talk about what it was like in the brief six months the casino was open. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas home prices
Home prices rose in every ZIP code in the Las Vegas Valley in 2018 for the second year in a row, according to SalesTraq. Prices grew fastest in older, more centrally located areas. But prices were highest in the suburbs. The top three ZIP codes for price growth were 89119 (29.8%), 89146 (25%) and 89030 (24.6%). The top three ZIP codes for median sales prices were 89138 ($464,500), 89135 ($420,500) and 89052 ($370,000).
Wagonwheel Drive overpass reopens after ice closure
Overpass at Wagonwheel Drive reopens after ice on the onramp caused the ramp to be shut down, Feb. 22, 2019. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Keeping warm at the city of Las Vegas’ homeless courtyard
With help from the city of Las Vegas, a Salvation Army shelter stays open during the day Thursday and Friday, offering a safe place for the homeless to find respite from freezing temperatures and snow. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sloppy, Slushy Road Conditions Lead to Slow Traffic
Traffic slowed to a crawl on Jones are near Russell as conditions worsened Thursday. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Winter storm blankets west side of Las Vegas Valley
On Wednesday evening through early Thursday a winter storm dumped more than 7 1/2 inches of snow on some parts of the Las Vegas Valley. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas snow day for children
Las Vegas kids play in the snow that fell on Feb. 21, 2019. (Belinda Englman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow closes Red Rock Canyon, residents enjoy rare snowfall
The greater Las Vegas area was hit with snowfall on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2019. This video shows the areas surrounding Red Rock Canyon and the Summerlin community. Video by: Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Las Vegas kids attend school in the snow
Las Vegas children attend school during a rare snowstorm on Feb. 21, 2019. Staton Elementary School and other CCSD schools remained open. (Glenn Cook/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
People enjoying the snow in Summerlin
Fox Hill Park in Summerlin was busy Thursday morning, Feb. 21, 2019, with people enjoying the rare snow that fell overnight. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NHP advises motorists to take caution during Las Vegas snowstorm
NHP advised motorists to take caution during the snowstorm in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
It is a rainy Valentine's Day in Las Vegas - Video
These scenes come from the Las Vegas Stadium LiveCam (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Business Videos
Impact of parking fees on visiting the Las Vegas Strip
There are no data showing a relationship between Strip resort and parking fees and the number of out-of-state visitors to Las Vegas. But there are data showing a relationship between Strip parking fees and the number of local visitors to the the Strip. ‘’As a local, I find myself picking hotels I visit for dinner or entertainment, based on whether they charge for parking or not,”’ said David Perisset, the owner of Exotics Racing. ‘’It is not a matter of money, more of principle.’’ A 2018 survey by the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance found 36.9 percent of Clark County residents reported avoiding parking at Strip casinos that charge for parking. 29.1 percent reported avoiding using any services from a Strip casino that charges for parking.
MGM's sports betting deals
MGM Resorts International signed a sports betting sponsorship agreement with the NBA in July It was the first professional sports league to have official ties with a legal sports betting house. The deal came just two months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a law prohibiting sports betting in most states. In October, MGM became the first gaming company to sign a sports betting partnership with the NHL. In November, MGM became the first gaming company to sign a sports betting partnership with the MLB. Financial terms of Tuesday’s deal and earlier partnerships have not been announced.
Faraday puts Las Vegas land on the market
Nearly two years after Faraday Future bailed on its North Las Vegas auto factory, the company has put its land up for sale. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
El Cortez owner Kenny Epstein on running the iconic property
Kenny Epstein, owner of the El Cortez Hotel in downtown Las Vegas, talks about Jackie Gaughan mentorship and answers rumors about bodies in the basement at the mob-era casino. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
LVCVA recommends construction of underground people mover
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority announced the recommendation for an underground people mover for the convention center. The system would have the potential to expand and connect Downtown and the resort corridor all the way to McCarran. (Michael Quine/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
LVCVA/Boring Company Press Conference
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority announced a collaboration with Elon Musk's The Boring Company to develop and operate an autonomous people mover system for the Las Vegas Convention Center District.
International Pizza Expo includes green and gluten free
The International Pizza Expo at Las Vegas Convention Center included companies focused on vegan and gluten free, and plant-based pizza boxes. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
International Pizza Expo kicks off in Las Vegas
The first day of the International Pizza Expo at Las Vegas Convention Center is everything Pizza. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
T-Mobile program aids guests with sensory needs
A program at T-Mobile Arena is designed to provide a more sensory friendly experience for guests.
Photo Booth Expo
Danielle May talks about how Simple Booth transformed her Volkswagen bus into a business.
Nevada Gaming Commission's highest fines
The highest fines assessed by the Nevada Gaming Commission, according to commission Chairman Tony Alamo: 1) Wynn Resorts Ltd., $20 million, 2019 2) CG Technology (then known as Cantor G&W Holdings), $5.5 million, 2014 3) The Mirage, $5 million ($3 million fine, $2 million compensatory payment), 2003 4) Stardust, $3 million, 1985 5) Santa Fe Station, $2.2 million ($1.5 million fine, $700,000 compensatory payment), 2005 6) Las Vegas Sands, $2 million, 2016 7) CG Technology, $1.75 million, 2018 8) CG Technology, $1.5 million (also $25,000 in escrow for underpaid patrons), 2016 9) Caesars Entertainment, $1.5 million, 2015 10) Imperial Palace, $1.5 million, 1989 11) Peppermill Casinos, $1 million, 2014
Tiny Pipe Home vs Shipping Crate
A Tiny pipe home was displayed at the International Builders Show this week in Las Vegas.
Auto repair shortage affects Las Vegas
The auto repair industry is facing a national shortage of workers.
Franchising industry booming
Experts say Las Vegas is a hotbed for the franchise industry.
Africa Love owner talks about his store in Las Vegas
Mara Diakhate, owner of Africa Love, gift and decor store, talks about his store in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Developer gets approval to build homes at Bonnie Springs
The Clark County Planning Commission has approved a plan to build 20 homes on the site of Bonnie Springs Ranch. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dig This opens new location In Las Vegas
Remember when you were a kid and played with construction toys in the sand box? Dig This Las Vegas has the same idea, except instead of toy bulldozers, you get to play with the real thing. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Town Square developer Jim Stuart building again in Las Vegas
Las Vegas’ real estate bubble took developers on a wild ride, something Jim Stuart knows all too well. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Salon opens at Veterans Village
T.H.E. Salon, owned by Nicole Christie, celebrated their opening at the Veterans Village with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
Southwest Airlines considering Las Vegas-Hawaii flights
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly says the airline is "very focused" on Hawaii. Hawaiians have a strong presence in Las Vegas.The city’s unofficial status is “Hawaii’s ninth island.” In 2018, at least 2,958 people from Hawaii moved to Nevada. Of those, 88.7 percent moved into Clark County, according to driver license surrender data. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, 310,249 people came to Las Vegas from Hawaii in 2018.
Fewer Nevadans are celebrating Valentine's Day
Fewer Nevadans are celebrating Valentine's Day. About 1.2 million Nevadans are expected to celebrate this year, a 5 percent drop from 2018. A growing number of people consider Valentine’s Day over-commercialized. Others weren’t interested in the holiday or had nobody to celebrate with. But spending is expected to rise. Those who do celebrate are buying for more people. The average American is expected to spend about $162 this year for Valentine’s Day, a 57 percent jump from a decade prior. Katherine Cullen, director of industry and consumer insights at NRF
Foreclosures of mansions in Las Vegas
Las Vegas was ground zero for America's foreclosure crisis after the housing bubble burst. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rick Helfenbein talks about the impact of tariffs on the clothing industry
MAGIC fashion convention showcases men's clothing trends
The MAGIC fashion convention has come to Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center to showcase some of the hottest clothing trends for men. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Allegiant Air flight attendants learn how to handle a water landing
Field instructor Ashleigh Markel talks about training prospective flight attendants for Allegiant Air getting live training with a raft for a water landing at the Heritage Park Aquatic Complex in Henderson on Monday. (John Hornberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery speaks
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery speaks about the new Smith & Wollensky restaurant coming to the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian in Las Vegas.
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery speaks
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery speaks about the new Smith & Wollensky restaurant coming to the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian in Las Vegas.
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery talks about Las Vegas return
Michael Feighery, CEO of Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group, discusses the restaurant's upcoming return to the Las Vegas Strip.
Apartments to Come to Hughes Center
Developer Eric Cohen discusses his current building project at the Hughes Center office park in Las Vegas, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Stratosphere to rebrand to The STRAT
The Stratosphere, a 1,150-foot-tall property in Las Vegas will be renamed The STRAT Hotel, Casino and Skypod.
Home Front Page Footer Listing